Advanced Duck Calling

As a guide, researcher, speaker and writer, I have always been interested in learning about the animals I hunt: how they react to the weather, which calls they use and why, and when and how they mate; so that I could use the information to become a better hunter. Even though I’d cut my eye teeth on a duck call, and I’d been hunting ducks for over thirty years I knew I didn’t know it all. So, when I met well known waterfowl biologist and goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper a few years ago I decided to pick his brain. I specifically asked him what calls were best for hunting. He told me that if I really wanted to learn about duck behavior I should read the book Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior by Dr. Paul Johnsgard. He also suggested the book Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. What I learned from my conversations with Jim, and from those two books, has dramatically changed the way I hunt ducks and geese.

While I was reading Johnsgard’s book I was amazed to find out that ducks don’t use the Chuckle to signify that they are feeding, or to entice other ducks to join them while they are feeding. I had grown up thinking that ducks used the Chuckle as a feeding call, that they used the Hail or High Ball to get other ducks to come and join them, and that they used the Comeback to get ducks that were flying the other way to turn around. And that is the problem with most game calling. Many hunters don’t understand the meaning of the calls they use.

 Duck Social Behavior

In order to properly understand why ducks and geese use the calls they use, you have to understand their social behavior; especially mating behavior. Waterfowl biologists refer to the mating behavior (courtship behavior as opposed to actual breeding) of ducks, geese and swans as pair bonding. Most waterfowlers know that geese mate, or pair bond, for life. After they pair bond the male and female stay together during nesting, and the young stay with the parents through the fall and winter. The young geese don’t usually leave their parents or begin to pair bond until they are on the wintering grounds during their fist or second year. This means that, during the hunting season, most geese are still in family groups consisting of the male, the female, and their young.

Ducks, on the other hand, do not mate for life; they regularly form a pair bond with a new partner each year. But, the male and female don’t stay together to raise the young, and the young don’t stay with the females very long. The drakes of most duck species leave the hens as soon as they start to nest, or shortly after. The hens then raise the ducklings by themselves. During the summer the hens molt (which leaves them flightless); and the young ducks grow their first flight feathers and begin to fly. After the young ducks learn to fly they may no longer associate with the hen, and they are generally on their own.

The young ducks then begin forming loose pair bonds from late summer through early winter. (Pair bonding by Mallards may begin as early as mid-August. Pair bonding by other puddle duck species occurs from mid-October through winter, and by divers from mid-winter through early spring.) This pair bonding is often accompanied by aerial courtship flights and displays, and by calls that are associated with pair bonding behavior. As a result of this social behavior, ducks are not normally in family groups during the hunting season; they are usually in groups consisting of unrelated individuals and newly bonded pairs.

Duck Vocalizations  

During the fall most puddle duck hens of the genus Anas (Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, Blue-Winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal, Widgeon and Shoveler) use three calls; the Social Contact Call, the Decrescendo call, and the Incitement call. The Social Contact call is used by the hen to keep her family together; it is also used by hens to make other ducks aware their presence. The Decrescendo Call is used by hens to announce a willingness to pair bond. It may also be used by hens as general conversation. Although breeding doesn’t usually occur until spring, the hens use the decrescendo when they begin forming pair bonds in the fall. The Incitement Call is used by the hen to get her mate to drive another drake away from her. It’s a threat call, with the hen telling another duck that if it doesn’t leave her alone it may be attacked by her mate. Since most puddle ducks respond to the calls used by Mallards, they are the calls most commonly used by hunters, and they are the puddle duck calls discussed here.

Hen Social Contact Calls

The hens of most puddle duck species use a slow, shortened version of their Decrescendo as a Social Contact call; Mallard hens use a simple quack. This call may contain one or more drawn out notes spaced evenly apart; quaack…quaack…quaack. To imitate this call cup your hand over the barrel of the call like you were holding a bottle, and say quack. Your hand should remain cupped while you say the qua portion of the call; open your fingers on the ack.

Hen Decrescendo Calls

The Decrescendo call sounds just like it’s Latin name implies; it starts out loud and then becomes quieter as the duck runs out of air. The decrescendo of the hen Mallard is referred to by hunters as the hail, high ball or greeting call. It usually consists of five to ten notes, with the second note being the loudest and each successive note being softer.But it may be longer; I have heard a hen Mallard string seventeen quacks together while performing the decrescendo.

To correctly perform this call the first note should be short, and the second note the loudest, with

each of the following notes becoming softer qua-quack-quack-quack-quack-quack-quack. Most callers leave their hand open while performing this call. Eli and Rod Haydel, of Haydel’s Game Calls, use a variation of this call with an exaggerated, drawn out first note as a pleading call; and a sharper, more insistent version as a comeback call; quaaack-quack-quack-quack-quack-quack.

The hen Black Duck, Pintail and Shoveler use approximately the same call and pitch as the mallard. The hen Gadwall uses the same call, but with a higher pitch. The hen Widgeon uses a qua-awk; with 1 to 3 notes. The hen Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal use a high pitched quack with 3 to 4 notes, and the last two notes are usually cut off short. Haydel’s has a good Teal call for creating the higher pitched sounds of the hen Teal.

 Hen Incitement Calls

The incitement call used by hen puddle ducks is usually an insistent, rapid call consisting of several short notes The incitement call of the hen Mallard is referred to as the chuckle or feeding chuckle by hunters. The first time I really began to understand how Mallards used the chuckle was about ten years ago while I was sitting at the small lake near my home feeding geese with my kids. I heard the call and saw a hen mallard feeding with the geese. But, she wasn’t feeding, she was chasing away a drake mallard. It was quite obvious that the hen was using the chuckle as a form of threat call.

Although the chuckle is not a feeding call, it does occur in feeding situations where there are lots of drakes near the hens. In order for the hens to keep from being harassed by single drakes they perform the chuckle, telling other drakes that if they dot stay away they may be attacked to try to get drakes to stay away, which allows the hens to feed or swim in peace. Since ducks often hear the chuckle while they are feeding, or as they approach ducks that are feeding (whether they are on land or water) this call can be used to attract most puddle ducks. When you use the chuckle to bring in ducks, blow it as it is meant, loud, insistent and aggressive. Do not blow it like a welcome to incoming ducks, or as a pleading call to get other ducks to come down and feed. To imitate this the call, cup one or both hands over the end of the call, and rapidly say ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka while you blow into the call. I cup both hands over the call, and alternately open the fingers and thumb of the hand that is not holding the call, to create the impression of different sounds coming from different directions..

The hen Black Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler and Widgeon use approximately the same call and pitch as the hen Mallard. The hen Pintail uses a softer, more hoarse call, rrrt-rrrt-rrrt. The hen Blue-Winged and Green-Winged Teal use the same call with a higher pitch. The hen Wood Duck uses a high pitched whistle, wheet-wheet-wheet. Several call manufacturers offer Wood Duck calls for recreating the sound of a hen Wood Duck.

Drake Social/Mating Calls

The drake mallard call is simply a deeper, more reedy version of the social  contact call, usually containing two to four notes; raeb-raeb-raeb-raeb. The drake Black Duck uses the same call as the drake Mallard. The drake Gadwall uses a higher pitched raeb-zee-zee-raeb-raeb. The drake Shoveler uses a woh-woh-woh, or, took’a-took’a-took’a. The drake Pintail uses a high pitched whistle, and a burp performed with an outstretched neck, kwa-kwa. The drake Blue-Winged Teal, Green-Winged Teal and Widgeon use a high pitched whistle. To perform the drake Mallard call use the same technique as the hen social contact call, but you will probably have to use a call with a deeper pitch. Haydel’s offer a good draek Mallard call. Several manufacturers offer combination Pintail/Widgeon/Teal whistles to reproduce the sounds of the drakes of those species.

Think While Your Calling

When you are calling ducks think about what you are trying to do. Initially you try to get the duck’s attention, to let them know there are other ducks in the area, and where they are. If the ducks aren’t coming toward you, you try to get them to change their course and come closer. As the ducks get closer you try to convince them that there are other ducks on the water, that it is safe to land, and that the area is a good place to rest and feed in safety. But, the calls you are performing are not used by the ducks for those purposes. They are used to announce a willingness to mate, during courtship behavior, and as a threat. So, what you have to do, is use the calls the ducks use, but, use them in a way that will get the ducks to do what you want them to do.

You can use a loud decrescendo as a hail call to initially get the ducks attention. Even though the decrescendo is a pair bonding call, it can be used to attract ducks because they are accustomed to hearing it in the fall. You can also use the decrescendo as a comeback call to turn the ducks, and as a pleading call to entice the birds to land. But, when you are calling, remember that ducks are not very big, and they have small lungs, they can’t possibly call as loud as I hear some hunters blow their calls. The closer the ducks get, the softer you should call.

You can use a series of quacks and chuckles to convince the birds that your decoys are real, and that everything is all right. Even though the inciting call is a threat and not a feeding call, it is used by ducks in a feeding situation. You can use the chuckle or a diver growl to convince the in coming ducks that there are one or more drakes harassing the hens in your spread. To add more realism to your calling you can use the social contact calls of the drakes, and the sounds of any other duck or goose species that might be in the area.

Calling Puddle Ducks

When I first see ducks a long way off I use a loud, long hail or high ball call (decrescendo) to get their attention and let them know where I’m at. I also use loud, long calls on windy days, when the ducks can’t hear as well, especially if they are upwind; and when I’m hunting flooded river bottoms, where sound doesn’t carry very far. If the birds don’t come my way, or if they turn off before the come in, I use a more drawn out version of the decrescendo, to try to convince the birds to come my way. While I call I watch the birds. If they respond to the call I’m using, I keep it up. If they don’t respond I try something else; a loud decrescendo, a soft decrescendo, a long, drawn out decrescendo, a string of short quacks, or a chuckle, whatever it takes. Sometimes I quit calling all together, to see if that works.

Once the ducks get within a hundred yards or so I use softer, shorter hail calls and slow, loud quacks, trying to sound like a contented hen. Most duck hunters have heard the early morning quacks of a hen Mallard across the water; that’s the sound you should imitate when your calling ducks that are in close. When the ducks are close don’t blow loud, fast quacks, that’s the sound a duck uses as it jumps into the air when it’s alarmed. And don’t over call. If the ducks are coming toward you, put the call down, grab the gun, and let ’em come. If they look like they might swing off use slow, soft quacks or the chuckle to keep them coming.

Be Adaptable  

I always carry more than one brand of Mallard call, each call with a different pitch. If the ducks don’t respond to one call I try the others, until I find one they do respond to. I also carry several calls so that I have a backup when the call I’m using gets wet and won’t blow. While I really like the sound of a good wooden call, they sometimes have a tendency to freeze up on cold days. I always have a couple of non-wooden calls with me. Plastic, poly-carbonate and acrylic calls may still freeze up, but, you can usually clear out the ice by blowing into them hard, or by knocking them against you hand.

To keep from sounding like every other hunter on the marsh, especially when the ducks don’t seem to be responding to my hen Mallard hail calls, quacks and chuckles I use a drake Mallard call. When the ducks won’t respond to a Mallard call I use a Pintail/Widgeon/Teal whistle or a Wood Duck whistle, which may be all it takes to get the ducks to respond. If I’m hunting lakes, rivers, sloughs or marshes that are big enough for divers to use I also keep a diver call on my lanyard. I include decoys of these other species in my decoy spread just in case some of them show up. After being hunted for several days or weeks the ducks often get call and decoy shy. When this happens I may stop calling altogether, use fewer or more decoys, or move to a new location.

Use Good Calls

If you really want to sound like the ducks you’ve got to have calls that can produce the right sounds. There are a lot of calls on the market that don’t produce the right sounds, or that can’t produce a wide range of tones. If a call doesn’t produce the right sounds, or is not able to produce a wide range of sounds, you won’t be able to reproduce realistic duck calls with it. If you have limited experience with a duck calls stick with a double reed call, although they are more limited in their range of tones than  single reed calls, they are easier to blow, and they will get you blowing the right sounds more quickly, and more consistently. After you become proficient on a double reed you may want to get a custom single reed call.

Purchasing A Call

Before you buy any call I suggest you give it a try. Blow a loud high ball, a softer quack and a chuckle, to see how the call performs. If you are one of those callers who likes to tune their own calls, ask before you start fiddling with the reed; some stores will let you and some won’t. If you’re looking for good over the counter calls Big River, Haydel’s, Hunter’s Specialties, Knight & Hale, Lohman, Mallardtone, Primos, Quaker Boy and Sure Shot all make good inexpensive calls; I use calls made by each of them. If you can’t find what you want at your local store Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Herter’s, Wing Supply and several other catalogs offer a wide selection of calls and instructional tapes.

As with most things you pay for, the more expensive the materials of the product, the higher the price. The price of custom calls made of laminated wood, cocobola wood and acrylics start at around $70. I don’t suggest you buy an expensive call through the mail, unless you know the maker, because you may not be able to return it. The best way to buy a custom call is to meet the maker at a show, and try several calls, then choose the one you like. If you don’t like the sound of the call most of the makers will tune it while you wait. Watching a call maker tune a call, and asking questions about how and why they do it, is also a good way to learn how to tune your own calls.

Duck Hunters

  Each fall as the cold descends upon the northern lands many species of waterfowl begin their migration south to warmer climates. Duck hunters also begin their yearly migration. They leave their everyday lives as farmers, laborers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and the thousands of other jobs that occupy their lives for long hours. They leave behind their normal existence to experience a renewal of their mind and spirit. They gather together boats, canoes, waders, camouflage clothing, decoys, calls, guns, shells, thermos bottles and dogs, and load them into all manner of vehicles. Then they take to the backroads that lead to the sloughs, ponds, lakes, streams rivers and backwaters where ducks and geese feed and rest.

They drive through the early morning darkness, the headlights of the vehicles leading the way to their destination. Once they arrive they unload the carefully stowed gear and often reload it in the watercraft and launch it onto the water. The excitement begins to build. The entry to the water is like opening a door to another world. All the pressures and worries are forgotten as thoughts of where to setup and how to place the decoys occupy the hunter’s minds. The decoys are eventually put out and the hunters retire to a stand of brush, grass, cattails or a blind to await the appearance of dawn and the coming of the ducks. As the hunters check their guns and pour a steaming cup of hot coffee a hen mallard quacks lazily across the water; quack, quack, quack, quack. Somewhere a coot splashes in the water, and a muskrat swims slowly by.

As the first light of dawn approaches a flock of Wood Ducks swings overhead, whistling as they fly; wheet, wheet, wheet. If it is late in the year and conditions are right the hunters may hear the rush of wings as a flight of bluebills passes by, sounding more like a jet than a flock of ducks. On special late season days there is the lonely cry of the swans as they move south; whoo, whoo, whoo. Or maybe the guttural sounds of a flock of Sandhill Cranes. The Marsh Wrens begin to flit in the grass or cattails, and occasionally, an owl can be heard. Often there are the sounds of blackbirds and grackles as they stream by in their seemingly endless flocks, stretching in waves across the sky. The noise blocks out all other sounds as the birds call incessantly.

The hunters peer intently through the cloud of birds, knowing that a flock of teal or mallards may slip in unnoticed, and there, beneath the blackbirds, is a trio of Bluewing Teal. The hunters crouch low, avoiding the wary eyes of the ducks. They reach for their calls and try to coax the birds in. For a while there is the sound of calling. The teal buzz the decoys once, twice, and then bank into the wind and out of sight, hurtling past like miniature fighter planes. But, as if the calling has attracted more ducks, a flock of Mallards appears, and before the hunters can relax, the birds begin to descend from the sky. Again the hunters crouch low, cupping their calls and guns.

This time the ducks respond without hesitation and head for the “hole” in the decoy  spread. The hunters wait in anticipation as the flock gets closer, hoping they come into range. They can see the bright green of the drake’s heads as the sun glints off their iridescent plumage. The ducks get closer until the hunters see their red feet as the birds cup their wings and extend themselves to land. Unable to wait any longer the hunters rise up, shoulder their guns and barely feel the recoil as the concussion of the shells pounds the air. Two of the greenheads fold and fall, splashing as they land on the water. The remainder of the flock speeds away into the sun, and once again there is a stillness in the air.

Then the black Labrador leaves the blind, front legs reaching out as he leaps into the water with a splash. The hunters talk about how the ducks came in, and how they lead them before firing. They talk excitedly, not thinking about their lives, the news, work or the urgency of civilization. For the time being the hustle and bustle, the stress of life is forgotten. The only thing on the minds of the hunters is enjoying these brief hours spent with friends who understand and enjoy the time spent on the water.

These duck hunters are a strange breed, almost despising the warm beautiful days of autumn. Instead they look forward to the miserable days. They embrace stormy weather with cold winds and biting sleet, rain or snow. They revel in frozen oar locks, ropes and hands. Ice covered decoys, clothing and equipment is expected and spoken of proudly as they recount their hunts, because others of their like know and understand that this type of weather brings the ducks, keeps them flying low, and willing to come to the decoys and the call. It’s almost as if the hunter who has not gotten wet, cold, frozen and gone home empty handed has not earned his stripes. He has not paid his dues in the duck blind. He has not earned the right to be called a duck hunter until he has spent long hours in a blind waiting for the ducks to fly. Until he has endured and withstood the weather, and gone home countless times, after many hours, without even firing a shell, he is not a duck hunter.

The duck blind is the proving ground; the long hours and harsh weather the test; the water soaked clothing, and the frozen cheeks and toes the badge of honor; the experience and endurance the essence of memories. The duck blind is where hunters of all ages and backgrounds pit their stamina, courage and will against, not the ducks, but nature. Even though it is not a place for the weak of heart, the impatient, or those frail of body, it is a place where the young, the old and even the disabled venture in search of the experience.

The duck blind cannot be about shooting ducks, for there are too many times when no ducks are shot, no ducks are even seen, for shooting to be all that matters. The duck blind is a place to get away, if only for a few hours. The hunt is a short vacation, a respite from everyday life. It is a place to spend time with a wife, husband, son, daughter or hunting partner. It is a place to relax, unwind and enjoy the beauty of nature and the environment that God created. The duck blind is something only a duck hunter can understand.

You Shot a Deer. Here’s How to Find It.

The buck you want is broadside, 20 yards away. You’re at full draw, trying to anchor and aim. I can count on Captain Hook’s left hand the number of things that excite me more than this moment. But nothing will turn that excitement into anxiety faster than releasing the arrow and not knowing exactly where it went. And that very thing happens to every bowhunter in the woods at some point in time.

But there are cues to watch following the shot. The deer’s initial reaction, the arrow’s appearance, and the blood trail quality are all important to considering not only where the deer is hit, but how long you should wait before taking up the trail.

Check it Out : You Shot a Deer. Here’s How to Find It. | Deer Hunting | Realtree.

November Whitetail Hunting

deerWhitetail bucks may not care much about security in the summer, but, once they shed their velvet and begin rubbing and scraping, they become more security conscious. They move less during daylight hours, travel more at night, use secluded areas, and keep more to the security of woods and brush, where they can’t be easily discovered by predators or hunters. However, as the breeding urge hits them in October and November, they seem to forget about security, and they begin to travel more in search of does. In their effort to find does they often begin traveling during daylight hours, and they often use the same trails as the does. They also begin frequenting the same feeding areas as the does.

 Find the Does

Late October is a good time to look for bucks traveling during legal hunting hours, it is also a good time to look for the same thing the bucks are looking for; does. If you know where the prime food sources are, you should be able to find the does. Once you find the does you can locate their core areas, food sites and travel corridors, where you may find buck rubs, rub routes and scrapes. And once you find bucks rubs and rub routes it is only a matter of time and effort before you find the bucks.

Glassing

Even though my wife and children are big football fans I often get the urge to head for the woods in the fall. So, during the afternoons and evenings on Saturdays and Sundays I drive to one of my hunting/research areas to look for deer, and deer sign. I begin my scouting by glassing (using binoculars) while I drive around the country, checking farm fields at dusk. Once I find where the deer are feeding I watch the fields to see where the deer come from, so I can locate their bedding areas.

Every once in a while I get lucky and see one of the bucks too, like I did the Friday evening before the gun opener in 2002. I was looking for does at the south end of one of the cornfields I hunted. As I neared the end of the field a fawn crossed the opening in front of me. I quickly turned off my lights and stopped the Suburban. Another fawn crossed the opening, followed by a doe and a massive 10 point buck locally known as “Bullwinkle.” As I sat silently in the Suburban the buck caught up with the doe and bred her, then they both moved into the woods, which I knew was used as a bedding area by one of the does in the area, probably this very doe. As a result of my scouting, and with a little luck, I had a pretty good idea of where to setup to see the buck the next morning.

Scouting

After I find the does I start field scouting, looking for evidence of bucks passing through the area. Rubs and scrapes are very evident during late October and early November, which makes it easy to locate the buck’s rub routes. Once I find a rub route I backtrack it to find the buck’s bedroom. More often than not I go into the bedding site and spook the buck, but I don’t worry about it. I’ve found that bucks often return to their core areas and bedding sites as long as they aren’t disturbed more than one or two times.

After a few weeks of scouting I know where the mast crops are, and which feeding areas the does are regularly using. To get a better idea of when and where the deer are moving I sit in a tree stand, or on a high point, where I can see a lot of territory. I watch the deer for a few, days to find out what time to expect them at certain points along their travel routes. Then I choose which stand sites to use at what time of the day for the best chances at the bucks.

T.R.’s Tips: Hunting Sight Setups

Hunters often use scents, calls and rattling to attract bucks during the rut. If you are use any of these methods to attract bucks remember that adult bucks invariably try to get downwind to check the area for scents and sounds, so they can detect and avoid danger. You should also remember that adult bucks try to remain in cover when they travel.

When you setup to take a particular buck along a travel route, give the buck the cover it likes to move in, while you set up in a nearby area. Try to position yourself crosswind of the buck’s travel route to avoid detection. If there is nearby cover the buck may use, and a more open area, or cover too thick for the buck to move through, crosswind of where you think the buck will travel, setup in the area the buck won’t use. Give the buck the area it will use, while you wait in the area it won’t use, and where you won’t be detected. You can also setup downwind of the buck’s approach while luring the buck to a position upwind of your position.

When you use scent wicks or canisters be sure to place them close enough for a shot. If you have to setup upwind of the buck’s approach, take extreme precautions to avoid detection; don’t put your stand in a direct line with the buck’s line of travel, you may be seen. For the same reason you should keep your stand site a comfortable distance from the travel route, far enough away to avoid detection, but close enough for a shot.

When I am hunting an area I have not hunted before, I prefer to hunt in the evenings, when most scent marking activity (rubbing and scraping) occurs. If I find a rub route I backtrack it until I think I am near a buck’s bedding area. Then I setup as close as I can to the bedding area without alarming the buck. If I can’t locate the rub route or bedding area I look for staging areas (where the deer gather before moving, into feeding areas at sunset) near food sources.

Once you have chosen an area to hunt, and a where to put your stand, decide where to place the scent. It can be hung from trees on felt pads, film canisters or a dripper. I place several drippers crosswind or upwind of my position, about fifteen yards from my stand and fifteen yards apart, near a rub or scrape, and wait for the buck to come by.

The November Rut Phases

Depending on where you hunt, whitetail deer may be going through one or more rut phases during November. In the northern and mid-latitude states they may be in the later stages of the Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase from early to mid-November; in the Primary Breeding Phase from early to mid-November; in the Rest Phase from mid to late November; or in the Pre-late Breeding Phase in late November. In the southern states these stages may begin  several weeks earlier, and each phase may last longer. To determine when peak breeding occurs in most states you can log on to the Trinity Mountain Outdoors web site at www.TRMichels.com and click on the Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.

November Hunting Sites

When you are using scents, calls and rattling you should get as close to the buck bedrooms and feeding areas as you can, or setup along the travel route between those two areas. If the bucks are not actively working their rub routes and making scrapes, and you know where they bed, travel and feed, you can setup near the bedding sites, along the travel routes, or near the feeding areas.  During the Pre-Primary Breeding/Scraping Phase (late October to early November in the north) bucks may be making rubs and scrapes along rub routes. They’ll travel their rub routes semi-regularly at this time, and you should be able to pattern the buck along its rub route, where you can setup near either rubs or scrapes. During the Primary Breeding Phase, when the bucks are looking for or with estrous does, they are unpredictable. But they may still frequent their rub routes, and the doe core areas and feeding areas. During this phase you can setup near buck bedrooms, along travel routes and near doe core areas and feeding areas. During the Rest Phase (after peak breeding) the bucks often return to their core areas and nearby feeding areas; you can setup near the buck bedding areas; or between the bedding areas and the food sources. Three to four weeks after the peak of the Primary Breeding Phase you can expect a Post Primary Breeding Phase, when the bucks begin traveling their rub routes again. During this phase they can be found near their bedding sites, and with the does in staging and feeding areas. During the Post Rut the bucks often return to their bedding areas and seek high quality food sources to put on weight for the winter. During this phase you should setup near buck bedrooms and feeding areas.

Pre-Primary Breeding / Scraping Phase Hunting Techniques

This is when you should setup along a rub route or near a scrape in a wooded area that the bucks use during the day. When I am hunting a previously patterned buck during this phase of the rut, near a rub or scrape, I am confident of the trail the deer uses and I don’t need numerous scent dispensers. Because I have patterned the buck, and I am hunting before the breeding period, I’m fairly sure the buck will come by me sometime within a 3-5 day period, unless it meets an estrous doe first, or is spooked by another hunter.

I use the scent to position the buck for a clear shot. The scent also gives me a chance to bring in any other bucks in the area. I hang up one or two felt pads with buck urine or doe estrous scent, but I don’t leave them out when I’m not there. If a buck comes to doe scent and doesn’t find a doe, it probably won’t fall for it again. By taking the scent out every day you don’t educate the buck.

You can also hunt near a scrape, or make your own scrape. I make a mock a scrape with the heel of my boot, rattling racks, or a stick, under an overhanging branch. I pour forehead scent on the branch and tarsal scent in the scrape. Then I hang an Ultimate Scrape Dripper with Golden Estrus or Active Scrape over the scrape, or near my stand in a shooting lane. This combination of buck infringement scents and doe in heat scent attracts bucks out of the urge to exert dominance, or to breed.

If you don’t know exactly where the buck’s bedding area is you can setup on the rub route at the first scrape the buck makes as it comes out of its core (bedding) area by using this same techniques. If you don’t know where the core area is you can setup near a staging area or food source that the does are using. When I am not setup along on a rub route or near a scrape I use several film canisters spread out 10 yards apart to attract the buck over a wider area. If you know the buck is traveling after sunrise in the morning you can use this same technique on the rub route leading back to its bedding area.

 Primary Breeding Phase Hunting Techniques

During this rut phase you should setup along the buck’s rub route or near areas the does regularly use. Because the does are in estrous the bucks are either with a doe or looking for one. If you know a particular buck is not with a doe, and is staying in its bedding area, you can setup as close to its bedding site as you can. Try to get between the buck and the first doe area it visits. If the buck finds an estrous doe before it gets to your stand site the chances are it will follow the doe and not the rub route. By setting up between the buck’s bedroom and the first doe use area you have a good chance of seeing the buck on a regular basis, and attracting it to your stand.

Because bucks are looking for does and want to protect their breeding rights both Territorial/Dominance scents and Sex scents work during this phase. To capitalize on this you can make a mock rub near one of the buck’s rubs or scrapes, and a mock scrape. You can drip a line of tarsal, interdigital or urine scent across the trail the buck uses and lead it to the mock rub.

To make a mock rub remove the bark from a tree with a wood rasp, then drip forehead scent or some other scent on the rub. Wear rubber gloves and boots while you do this, so you don’t contaminate the area. Mock rubs should be placed in a shooting lane, near your stand, where the buck will stop to investigate it, often sniffing and licking the rub, while offering you a shot.

Remember, during the breeding phase or “peak rut” the bucks may be traveling anywhere and anytime in search of does. Because the bucks are unpredictable during this phase you should spend as much time as possible on stand. Choose a site near a rub or scrape near doe core areas, in staging sites, feeding or watering areas, or get close to the buck’s bedroom. Hunt three or more days in each area, changing stand sites frequently. If the buck is with an estrous doe it may stay with the doe for up to three days; it may not return to its normal activities until the doe is out of estrous. If you quit hunting after two or three days you may miss the buck when it returns to its normal pattern.

Once the majority of the does in estrous have been bred, the dominant bucks often begin to travel their rub routes again, making rubs and scrapes. The subdominant bucks may also begin rubbing and scraping at this time, because they haven’t come in contact with the dominant bucks or with fresh rubs and scrapes, which often keeps them from making their own rubs and scrapes. Either way there is often renewed rubbing and scraping activity for a week or more shortly after peak breeding as both the dominant and subdominant bucks search for does. Setup along rub lines, scrape routes and in staging areas near food sources. Buck urine and doe in estrous work well at this time. Tarsal or interdigital scent can be dripped on a trail to lead bucks to rubs, scrapes or your stand site.

Rest Phase Hunting Techniques

A week to two weeks after peak breeding the older bucks may not show themselves. After the fighting, chasing and breeding of the Breeding Phase the dominant bucks may be worn out, hungry, and in need of food to supply enough fat to get them through the winter. They often return to their bedding areas, or look for a secure place to rest, with high quality food sources nearby. If you know where the bucks are and where the available food sources are, you can setup between the two to intercept the bucks.

The bucks may not be as willing to fight after peak breeding, but they may still be interested in breeding. Estrus scents and buck urine work well at this time. Some bucks may respond to Curiosity scents; Food scents like acorn, corn and peanut butter may work. If you are confident of your stalking skills you can go after the buck in its core area.

 Late Breeding Phase

About two to three weeks after peak breeding has ceased some of the younger does that did jot come into estrous earlier, particularly six month old fawns in many regions, may come into a first estrous, and older does that were not bred earlier come into a second or possibly a third estrous. This may cause an increase in both rubbing and scraping activity as the bucks begin to travel their rub routes and search for late season forage, where they may come in contact with does or the scents the does left behind. Since the younger or subdominant bucks may have never ceased looking for does, the earliest of these activities may be attributed to the these bucks, resulting in what appears to be a pre-late breeding phase, which precedes the peak breeding of does at this time. The actual Late Breeding Phase peak may last two to three weeks. However, breeding may continue for a month or more before ceasing, with breeding continuing longer in the mid-latitude and southern states.

Winter Home Range Shift & Migration

Limited food sources and cold winter weather may cause the deer to migrate, or to move to Winter Home Ranges. I’ve seen this Winter Home Range Shift occur as early as mid-November if the weather turns cold, the snow gets deep, the natural food sources are gone, or agricultural food sources like corn and soybeans are picked. If you don’t see any deer in you area, they may have moved or migrated. If they have you will have to start the scouting, glassing, patterning process all over again if you want to be a successful deer hunter.

Pre-Late Rut Phase and Late Rut Phase Hunting Techniques

No matter which rut phase you are hunting during late season deer hunts, the further you are from the food sources you are, without getting too close to the deer bedding areas, the better your chances of seeing deer during the day. Even though the deer may arrive at the food source well before dark, they are most alert near the food sources, where you may be detected. And, because bucks generally travel later than does, you will have a better chance of seeing them in protected areas, well away from the food sources, in the early afternoon.

 T.R.’s Tips: Right Place, Right Time

When you are hunting in the morning try to position yourself between night resting areas/early morning food sources, and daytime bedding areas. Your hunting sites should be located along trails leading to buck bedding areas so you have an opportunity as the bucks return to their beds.

I often see deer bed and feed in overgrown fields of brush and saplings on the downwind side of hills in the morning. They often stay in these areas until daylight, then, as the sun rises, move to areas of deeper cover. When this happens you can setup downwind or crosswind of the trails the deer use as they leave. You can also setup near known buck bedding areas, provided you get there before the buck returns.

The time to hunt late season bucks is when the conditions are right. When foods are scarce, or a preferred food is available; and when there is cloud cover and the wind-chills drop, expect to see deer earlier in the evening and later in the morning than normal. After a winter storm lets up, or it has been cold, windy, or after there has been heavy precipitation for more than a day and a half, which causes the deer to miss two or more feeding periods, and then the wind dies down, or the temperature/wind-chill rises, you can expect the deer to begin feeding, and to continue feeding for the next couple of hours.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

rattlingThe sun shining on the frost covered golden rods in front of my tree stand caused the plants to sparkle like diamonds. A flock of geese was feeding in the cornfield directly ahead of me and I could hear their excited honking. A downy woodpecker tapped on the aspen tree above my head while seven deer fed and groomed each other in the golden rod field. The wind picked up and I shivered in the 25 degree temperature. I tried not to shake too much. I didn’t want the deer to see me or hear the chattering of my teeth. I had been watching them since 7:15 when they arrived, first a doe with two fawns that were still trying to nurse. Every time the fawns approached the doe she would lay hear ears back, extend her neck and threaten them. When this didn’t work she would charge them, kicking out with a foreleg. Then the fawns would run off, jumping playfully and the doe would go back to feeding.

Soon after the first deer arrived another doe with twins came out of the new growth aspen patch on my right and began feeding. They moved close to the other deer but not close enough to get involved with the playful fawns. Then a pair of yearling does came out of the weeds and stood near the end of the lane at the other end of the field seventy yards away. I watched the deer until 8:00 when they ambled into the wooded gully to my right, then to the oak woods where they bedded. I sat on the stand another fifteen minutes, hoping to see the eight point buck that traveled through this area on his daily rub route. He had made a scrape under the plum tree at the end of the lane near the lake. If the buck was late going back to his bedding area, as he often was, I might see him yet.

I didn’t see any more deer until 8:30 when two more does appeared near the scrape. I had been ready to leave but decided to watch the does. Just to see what would happen I rattled loudly. The does seemed not to hear the sound and I checked the rest of the field. Standing just across the wire fence fifty yards away, staring at the two does, stood the high racked four point buck I had seen the day before. I rattled again and he looked my way. I raised my binoculars for a better look. The young buck stared in my direction then suddenly looked toward the two does. I swung the binoculars in their direction. They had left but the big eight point was walking down the lane toward my stand. This was what the smaller buck was looking at. I checked the fence where he had been standing in time to see him disappear over the hill. He probably didn’t want to be around the bigger buck with so many does in the area.

I looked down the lane again. The eight point was still coming, now thirty yards away. Whether from the cold or excitement, my left leg began to shake uncontrollably. I tried to make it stop but it only seemed to get worse. I willed myself to quit shaking. Geez, he looked big, his neck swollen, his high, wide rack clearly visible as he walked down the lane. I wished for my camera but had I left it in the house a half mile away. With the bright sun I could have gotten some great pictures of the buck as he came in. He kept coming and finally stopped where the second doe had feed for a while, sniffing the ground and looking in the direction she had gone. He stood for a full minute, offering a broadside shot with nothing between us but air. But I was not hunting today, I was studying the deer just like I had been all season long.

The first time saw the buck it was two hundred yards away. I wondered what the buck would do if I rattled. The doe was walking with her tail up, clearly in estrus. I rattled anyhow, loud, smashing the racks together then grinding them hard. The buck paid no attention. He probably couldn’t hear the noise. I rattled again, as loud as I could. This time he looked my way, staring intently. He stood for a couple of minutes and as the doe and fawns disappeared into the oaks he followed them. I waited five minutes then rattled. Maybe I could get another buck to come in.

Five minutes later I rattled loudly for a minute. No deer appeared. It was getting late but I waited another five minutes and rattled one last time before leaving. After checking the area in front of me I put my binoculars in my pocket and heard a noise behind me. I turned just in time to see the eight pointer, tail waving good-bye, bound across the open cornfield. He had followed the woods around the corn and gotten downwind before coming into the open. If I had been more patient and observant I would have seen him. I looked at my watch. It had taken him twenty five minutes to come in, traveling at least two hundred and fifty yards the way he had come. Well, I had learned something. Be patient, be alert, expect deer from any direction, check the downwind side carefully before leaving the stand, and figure on at least twenty minutes for a buck to cover two hundred yards.

Rattling works best in areas with high buck concentrations. Feeding and staging areas near doe use areas often attract more than one buck. Try to be near a buck dominance area, a rubline or scrape, at a time when the buck may be passing through. If you are going to rattle try using more than one set of racks with different sounds. Don’t rattle the same buck from the same stand if it can be avoided, especially if you are discovered. Don’t rattle to the same buck on consecutive days. Use different stands every two to three days. Rattle from a blind or treestand where motion can’t be seen.

You can grunt or snort, rake a tree or bush, pound the ground and rustle leaves to simulate the sound of two bucks fighting. The sound of thrashing or raking a tree or bush is often enough to bring in a buck. This tactic works especially well on mule deer that rely on the sound of thrashing rather than grunting to express dominance. Use rattling in conjunction with scents and decoys to convince the buck there is or was another deer in the area.

If you rattle from a treestand use two sets of racks, one set tied to a rope hanging from your stand. By shaking the hanging rack you can keep the buck looking at the ground and away from your position. Keep human scent to a minimum and stay downwind of the area you expect the buck to come in. If you can position yourself so there is no cover downwind the buck will usually come in crosswind and be unable to pick up your scent. Be patient, it may take a wary buck a long time to come in. Be quiet and thoroughly check your hunting area before leaving, a buck may come in without you noticing.

 

T.R. Michels

 

Choosing Stand Sites

treestandAn understanding of deer behavior and travel patterns can help you choose a hunting site. Because deer feed primarily during low light conditions they have two primary rest periods, late at night and during mid-day. Generally they leave their daytime bedding areas in heavy cover late in the afternoon and move toward night time food sources. They intermittently feed, travel and rest during the night before returning to their daytime bedding areas.

Because the amount of light is a Security Factor, deer in forested areas (where there is shade) get up and begin to feed and move a couple of hours before sundown. As the amount of light becomes less they move into more open areas of low brush or sparse forest and feed, moving toward open fields and meadows. Shortly before sundown they move into the shadows at the edges of tall grass and swamps before going into open meadows or agricultural fields where they feel secure and feed during darkness.

In the early morning this pattern is reversed. As the sky begins to brighten the deer move from the open areas back into tall grass fields, then to brushy areas just before daylight and into heavy cover or woods again once the sun is up. Bucks are generally more wary than does and move about a half hour later in the evening and head back to their beds about a half hour earlier in the morning.

 

 

Evening Stands

If you are hunting late in the afternoon, when the deer are just getting out of their beds in heavy cover, setup along travel lanes leading from the bedding areas to daytime food sources; near small openings in woods, fallen mast sites, swamp or creek edges near heavy cover. Close to sundown hunt the transition zones of tall grass, heavy brush, swamps and gullies. trails leading to staging areas, downwind of open food sources are excellent at sundown, especially for bucks.

If you are hunting at or after sundown and the deer are feeding in the open your stand should be along trails leading to the fields. Bucks move later than does and often come into the transition zones after sundown, preferring to stay in cover until sundown when they feel secure. If you don’t see bucks in open feeding areas move farther into the woods along buck travel routes in heavy cover and forested areas. Because the deer move late in the evening you have plenty of time to get to staging areas and transition zones before they arrive.

 

Morning Stands

In the early morning, when the deer are still feeding in the open, don’t hunt from stands near open night food sources unless you are sure there are no deer near your stand or you can approach it undetected. Because of the darkness you won’t know if there are deer in the area until it’s too late and if you spook a deer it will alert all the others in the area. Hunt transition zones, heavy cover where deer feed in search of food, or trails leading to bedding areas. Be at your stand before the deer and ambush them on their return.

Before the breeding phase bucks usually return to cover well before daylight. Hunt rub routes back to the buck bedroom early in the morning, getting there before the buck. Once the rut begins the bucks may return later because they are either chasing or looking for does. Early in the morning you may catch the buck along his rub route near transition zones on the way back to the bedding area. If the buck is not in his bedding area hunt near it from first light until noon. I have seen bucks drag themselves home at 11:00 in the morning. If you previously observed or patterned a buck you know when and where the best setup is.

T.R. Michels

3 Best Broadheads for Whitetails

Having trouble deciding on a broadhead for whitetail deer? Ten experienced bowhunters told us their go-to broadheads, and we compiled the results.

By Adam Heggenstaller

August 28, 2014

Today it seems there are nearly as many broadhead designs as bullet types, and manufacturers introduce dozens of new ones each year. And just like bullets, every hunter has a favorite. With that in mind, I asked 10 bowhunters with an average of 19 years of experience to pick their go-to broadheads for whitetail deer. Surprisingly, there was considerable overlap in the choices. Those three broadheads made the cut below (plus two more based on their record of success in the field). It’s hard to argue with proven performance, but I’m sure you’ll have fun trying.

  1. New Archery Products Thunderhead 100

The three-blade, 100-grain Thunderhead was on the list of five of the hunters I polled, making it the most popular in my less-than-scientific survey. New Archery Products (NAP) says the micro-grooved ferrule increases accuracy, and several hunters who listed the Thunderhead among their favorites confirmed its accurate in-flight performance. Couple accuracy with super-sharp blades that result in a 1 3/16-inch cutting diameter, and you have the recipe for short, heavy bloodtrails. MSRP: $39.99 per 5

thunderhead_best_broadheads_12. Muzzy 100-Grain 3-Blade

 

Muzzy’s well-known “Bad to the Bone” reputation largely comes from the three-sided, hardened-steel Trocar tip the company puts on its broadheads. It’s designed to blast through bone for deep penetration (important for quartering shots on even lightly built game like whitetails) and mechanically locks the .020-inch-thick blades to the aluminum ferrule. The 100-grain, 3-blade version has a 1 3/16-inch cutting diameter and has been my top broadhead for almost two decades. With a properly-tuned bow, I’ve always found it flies true. Three other hunters in the poll had it on their lists, too, for the same reasons. MSRP: $39.95 per 6

muzzy_best_broadheads_2

  1. Rage 2-Blade

Some bowhunters are reluctant to try mechanical broadheads, but those who settle on Rage rarely go back to fixed-blade designs. Such was the case with two of the hunters I polled, who trust the company’s SlipCam blade-deployment system and love the broadhead’s field-point-like accuracy. On top of that, the 100-grain, two-blade version offers a wide cutting diameter of more than 2 inches when fully deployed on impact. The only downside seems to be cost. MSRP: $44.99 per 3

rage_best_broadheads_1

Honorable Mention: New Archery Products KillZone 100-Grain

Two-blade mechanical with spring-clip design that doesn’t require O-rings or rubber bands for blade retention in flight. Two-inch cutting diameter; available with a cut-on-contact tip or a pyramid-shaped Trophy Tip. MSRP: $39.99 per 3

Honorable Mention: G5 Outdoors Striker 100-Grain

Three fixed, .030-inch-thick blades offer a 1 1/8-inch cutting diameter and lock inside a solid-steel ferrule for toughness. Edges of triangular-shaped tip align with blades to provide performance similar to cut-on-contact broadheads. MSRP: $42.99 per 3

Source: 3 Best Broadheads for Whitetails – American Hunter.

Spring Turkey Hunting Tips

turkeyspringSpring, though you may not believe it, is right around the corner. That means growing vegetation, melting snow and even more hunting opportunities. The most notable hunting season up and coming, especially for those die-hards out there, is the spring turkey hunt.

But spring turkeys require more finesse than a simple run and gun technique like fall turkeys often fall victim to. Instead, hunters have to usually hit the woods early and wait for the morning light to start. Once a tom turkey roars out, the hunt begins.

But the key to hunting spring turkeys, especially in areas that do not offer a large population, is scouting. Do not just pick one area, either. Find where the turkeys are roosting in the winter months. That is where they are likely going to be before the green starts sprouting, especially in areas that have a season starting fairly early, like Maine’s May season (April for the youth hunt).

To help in the scouting, employ that device that is becoming so well known to hunters: The trail camera. While many sportsmen might think that these cameras were designed for scouting deer and bear. Sure. But they are also great for smaller animals, especially those that travel in groups.

Not to mention, though a slight digress, that these trail cameras are being used for nature and wildlife photography, and quite successfully. Once you know where you are going, it is important to be prepared to go.

What is the best way to prepare? Practice, practice and more practice. Shooting is just part of it. You need to practice firing from standing and resting positions. You need to practice moving quietly in the woods, even in the dark. You need to work on your turkey calls, which are incredibly important during spring hunts, unless you know where your tom is going, you are going to have to lure him to where you are.

And speaking of calling a turkey, remember that when you are out in the woods, it is important not to rush the experience. If you hear a tom gobble in the distance, do not just try to race over the next 100 yards and try to get a bead on him. Instead, be patient. Move 25 to 50 yards at a time and wait.

Call and see if the tom responds to you. It is always best to be in control of the situation, having the tom looking for his rival rather than having you burst into view (turkeys have amazingly good vision and hearing).

Also remember that many toms will come into an area that you are calling but do so without letting their presence be known. This is doubly true if there is a lot of hunting pressure. Turkeys are not dumb. The reason toms live long enough to become dominant is because they have avoided a shotgun blast until this point in their lives.

While you are out hunting and you are finding that you are not getting much success convincing turkeys to come within shooting range, try changing the time that you come. Weekday hunting is often more successful because of the reduced pressure and a lack of hunters in the woods as compared to the weekend.

When the season finally does arrive, do what we here at Northeast Hunting always suggest: Be courteous to other hunters in the woods. Do not stalk up on another hunter who is working a tom. Frequent and repeated gobbling is typically a sign of a hunter and not a tom. Interfering with other hunters is not only unsportsmanlike, it is also incredibly dangerous.

And, of course, be careful. While turkey season usually tends to not find many hunters wearing blaze orange, it is best to not dress in any kind of red, white or blue. These are colors of a turkey that could draw unwanted attention from a careless hunter and their shotgun.

Spring turkey hunting can be an extremely enjoyable season, despite it often feeling more like winter in the early weeks than spring. Just keep in mind that a patient hunter is quite often a successful hunter.

Its all about the Decoy

img_3823Once rut really starts going in your neck of the woods, you are missing out on several opportunities at large bucks if you are not using a decoy. Leading up to the rut, a buck decoy is the best option. However, once the seek and chase phase sets in, a doe decoy properly set up in front of your stand can bring them running right to you.

If there is one thing I know how to mess up, it’s just about anything that has to do with deer hunting. I’ve learned everything I’ve ever known by doing it wrong the first five or six times before I finally figured it out. The same holds true with using a doe decoy. For starters, never place a doe decoy directly in front of your stand. I can’t tell you how many bucks I’ve scared away by my own movement trying to get to my bow with the buck in so close it see’s me with it peripherals. Well, actually I can tell you; it has happened five or six times. From experience, the best place I’ve found for the proper spot is about thirty yards at an angle from my forward facing position. Never place the decoy downwind. You will get busted every time. Read more

Turkey Bow Hunting Tips

wildturkeygroupEspecially for beginners, turkey bow hunting can be quite tricky. If you want to ease into the game without biting off more than you can chew, you may start with hunting wild turkeys. They are very big, which makes them good targets, and they are not very smart, which makes hunting them less difficult. For these reasons, you can even forget bringing the rifle and try hunting them down using bows. Over the years, bow hunting turkey has continuously gained a reputation for being one of the best hunting sports that use reusable ammunition.

In addition to this, turkey bow hunting also has another benefit: there is no more need for you to scout for bullets in the carcass. Taking the bow out is as easy as pulling it out. Even better, the ammunition used does not have any component that will affect the quality of the meat.

Here are a few turkey bow hunting tips that you can use to improve your hunt. Every hunter, especially the beginners, will definitely benefit from these. Try using them the next time that you go on a prowl and see how many more turkeys you can get. Read more